Features - Interview
AUGUST 1, 1991
BY JOE SAWARD
That's what happened. In the early races the car was quick but it kept breaking down. In Canada, on the very last lap of a race totally dominated by Williams driver Nigel Mansell, the Englishman's car broke down -- just a kilometre or two from the finishing line.
From that day onwards, however, the Williams has been the quickest car. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the F1 paddock who does not believe that -- in racing trim -- the Williams-Renault FW14 is the fastest Grand Prix car of 1991. McLaren-Honda might have a faster qualifying car but in the races Mansell and his team mate Riccardo Patrese have been right with Senna. Once they get ahead, he cannot beat them. The problem has been those niggling mechanical failures which have meant that Williams is still behind McLaren-Honda in the World Championships.
'We're coming from behind,' explains Frank, 'but we have a very fine car. It's not often a team will turn up and have such an advantage. It is still possible to beat McLaren-Honda, but all we can do is go from race to race and try to win all of them. It's like we are swimming underwater. We come up for air at the races then dive back down in between, keeping our heads down, getting on with the job.
'I believe in the cycles of motor racing. We're up now and I hope that we'll stay here for a long time, but I know it may only be a short time because we are up against some very competitive, very competent, people and they are trying everything to get us -- not because they are spiteful but because they need to be ahead.
'All those buggers at Woking, Maranello, Witney, Godalming or wherever, they aren't thinking about how to get their road car to the car wash, they are thinking: "If we change this or that, we can catch up". We're doing the same thing at Williams. We're thinking how do we go quicker. We're terrified that sooner or later McLaren or Ferrari will come back at us.'
'Yes,' says Frank, 'He is an immensely tough bastard and, if things go wrong with his car, he will give me a very hard time. He's not slow in coming forward. That's the unpleasant side of him, but it's actually a good side too, becasue I bet that Ayrton Senna gives Ron Dennis a hard time at McLaren. And Alain Prost at Ferrari. All these guys -- the best -- they are not there because they are Mr Nice Guy. They're bastards. They're mean.
'Riccardo is quite different. He gets on with his own life. He's very cool and laid back. Clearly he's an extremely talented qualifier but, to be frank, generally-speaking, Nigel will drive a tougher, meaner, grittier race. When the lights go green, he goes red.
'The thing about Nigel is that he knows what he wants. He isn't always right about a softer spring or whatever but usually he is. He knows how to make his car go quick.'
After wins in France, Britain and Germany, Mansell was looking a likely to overhaul Senna for the title, despite the Brazilian's early season string of four wins at Phoenix, Interlagos, Imola and Monaco.
In Hungary, the Williams charge to the title was stopped -- by Senna.
'It went almost okay in Hungary - putting an optimistic viewpoint on it,' says Frank. 'We were suprised by the speed of the McLaren in qualifying. That shocked us and Ayrton got the pole which we all knew we had to do. It wasn't as if we didn't know it. We just didn't get it. I don't think Ron Dennis sat down at his desk before Hungary and said: "Right I have lightweight chassis at my disposal I will only use them in Hungary. I am sure that the McLaren factory is working morning, noon and night trying to get things out. He cannot afford to give anything anyway.
'Anyway, it worked for him and in the race Nigel and Riccardo could not get past Ayrton. If we'd been ahead he would not have got past, but he was ahead and he won the race.
'Belgium was a great disappointment. We were shocked again in qualifying by the difference, but in the race we were reasonably confident and reasonably comfortable. Then Nigel's car broke. That's motor racing.
'The championship chances are very slim, but after Monza it is better. Both the Williams and the McLaren are very capable of winning. If you are quick and reliable you will win. If you're not, you'll fail totally -- like we did in Belgium.'
And what about the Williams-Renault's chances at Suzuka?
'That's what I expect. Either could win. We'll see, won't we.'
Whatever the case, by the time the Grand Prix circus arrives at Suzuka, with the title won or open, you can expect to see an incredible battle between McLaren-Honda and Williams-Renault, and you won't find many people in the F1 paddock willing to put money who will come out ahead.